How does Shakespeare create tension and confusion in Act 1, Scene 1 in Othello?

Expert Answers info

Denis Lubowitz eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write713 answers

starTop subjects are Literature and Social Sciences

The play opens with a conversation between Iago and Roderigo.  Roderigo is obviously upset with Iago, thinking that Iago knew about a certain incident occurring and didn't tell him.   We don't know what event or incident Roderigo is referring to, so we listen further.  As we listen like eavesdroppers, we hear Iago attempting to placate Roderigo, joining him in his anger, but redirecting Roderigo's anger against some else who has overlooked Iago for a promotion to the rank of Lieutenant.   The audience now is beginning to put pieces of information together.  This beginning in medias res provides suspense and confusion. We begin to realize that the one both men are angry with is Othello, and we see Othello in a very negative light.  Iago calls him pompous, "horribly stuffed with epithets of war," and even somewhat stupid in choosing an unexperienced man like Cassio to be his lieutenant.  Do we believe Iago here?   And yet, we are also given a look into Iago's warped mentality with his declaration, "I am not what I am," as he boasts that he will undermine Othello by pretending to be his loyal servant. 

Already we see characters pitted against each other, and we have probably as yet not chosen sides.  We may even sympathize more with Iago here since we all know what it is like when a job goes to someone less qualified than ourselves.  But then the next step the two take is to go rouse her father.  More confusion is created for the audience as the two men race to wake up the sleeping Brabantio with horrible obscenities describing Brabantio's daughter's elopement to Othello.  This coarse language is certainly attention-getting and also bewildering.  Once again we are given negative images of Othello as a beast-like, sex-crazed black man.  And, a third man, Brabantio, is now angered and desperate to stop the marriage.  Another bit of information is now given to us--Roderigo had wanted to marry Desdemona, Brabantio's daughter. 

Now,we are ready to read on to see what kind of man Othello is and how he will be able to handle those who feel they have been wronged by him: Roderigo who wanted to marry Desdemona, Brabantio whose daughter was stolen from him; and Iago who was denied a promotion.   By beginning in the middle of a conversation followed by angry shouts and crude language, Shakespeare creates tension and confusion. We...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 800 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

McKinstry Rose eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write1,976 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

coachingcorner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write1,346 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

check Approved by eNotes Editorial